The Woman Who Went to Space as a Man – Part fact, part fever dream, and part musical, this captivating new work opens with Alice B. Sheldon – better known to sci-fi aficionados as author James Tiptree, Jr. – contemplating suicide. Dodging in and out of reality, the play, with a bold musical score from award-winning world music artist Yuval Ron, investigates gender, longing and creativity as self-exploration through one of the science fiction world’s greatest literary tricksters. Sheldon was most notable for breaking down the barriers between writing perceived as inherently ‘male’ or ‘female,’ as it was not publicly known until 1977 that Tiptree was, in fact, a woman. Inspired by the biography ‘James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon’ by Julie Phillips along with ‘With Delicate Mad Hands’ by James Tiptree, Jr., The Woman Who Went to Space as a Man, is a co-production from Son of Semele Ensemble and opens on October 27 at Son of Semele Theater in Los Angeles.
Alice B. Sheldon started writing science fiction under the male pen name of James Tiptree, Jr. as a last grasp for life at the age of 50. Without expecting any success, Sheldon as Tiptree ended up taking the science fiction world by storm writing the most provocative and socially relevant stories to this day. For years, no one knew Tiptree’s true identity. Influential science fiction writers such as Phillip K. Dick wanted to collaborate with him; Ursula K. Le Guin and Joanna Russ put him on a pedestal. In 2012 Tiptree was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. Ironically it was the remarkable life Sheldon led as a woman that made her so believable as a man. She was an officer in the Army, worked for the CIA, the Pentagon and traveled the world.
The Woman Who Went to Space as a Man has universal and topical resonance as it deals directly with the repression of women, of gender/sexual orientation, depression and the search for hope. It also brings science fiction — a form that was long marginalized — to the center stage and shows how Alice B. Sheldon used science fiction to address issues that plague humanity such as genocide, ecocide and racism. The play experiments with form, episodic storytelling, shifting time and vacillating between inner and outer realities. It is interwoven with one of Tiptree’s short stories to frame the telling of Sheldon’s life.
The Woman Who Went to Space as a Man takes imaginary license whereby Sheldon is visited by an unexpected stranger — an extraterrestrial “star caller” from one of Tiptree’s stories — who leads her on an episodic, emotional journey through the shadows of her past where, despite her life’s accomplishments, buried pain and unmet desires reside. She encounters her younger selves, her domineering mother, her repressed lesbian love, and the incarnation of her male alter-ego: James Tiptree, Jr. The play locates unexpected links between gender orientation, creative expression and mental health, and shows how science fiction became the answer to Sheldon’s struggles as a woman.
“I have always been drawn to the lives of female artists; especially those who committed suicide. While their work may be celebrated, often their lives and personal triumphs are not. My intention is to unapologetically shed light on one of these overlooked lives: a true story about a woman who pretended to be a man,” explains Huskey.
Tiptree earned the reputation of being a male author who understood women and often addressed gender issues – on Earth and in worlds beyond. Having spent her entire life in male-dominated arenas – the Army, the C.I.A., academia, and finally science fiction writing – the invention of Tiptree allowed to say all of the things she felt she couldn’t as a woman. Once outed, Sheldon didn’t feel a sense a iberation. Instead, her confidence rattled with the transition from a perceived male writer to a female one, she faded from the science-fiction scene, leaving her legacy behind.
The Woman Who Went to Space as a Man runs October 27 through November 18 with performances on Tuesdays at 7 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 5 p.m. Tickets are $25; patrons 25 and under get $5 off with valid ID at the door; performances in the first two weeks are pay-what-you-can, and group discounts are available. Son of Semele Theater is located at 3301 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90004.
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